Wednesday, January 29, 2014


After a long day and falling asleep in front of it the previous evening, I was wide awake last night for Blue Jasmine, and I have to say I don't understand the praise. Despite its nods to Bernie Madoff and Wall Street greed, the movie seems to me to have continued Woody Allen's dispiriting inability to create the illusion of understanding how the real world works. No detail rings true-- not those anachronistic San Francisco-by-way-of-Bayridge palookas seemingly plunked down into the city from another place, another time, another bad movie; or Jasmine's computer illiteracy, which compels her to take classes so she can pursue online interior decorating courses financed by getting work as a dentist's receptionist, a job which, one would think, might require her to be, um, able with a computer; or the tired and familiar flirting with the trappings of intelligentsia and society; or most especially the concept of Jasmine herself, more a derivative literary conceit than a character, which is all it seems Allen is capable of writing anymore, from the top billed down to the bittest of bit players.

The movie feels like a series of ideas for scenes strung together, rather than having the organic flow of drama, and it never lurches more than when Allen starts tying up plot strands on the way to his bleak, pre-programmed conclusion. When Jasmine's facade with a new lover needs to be destroyed, up pops a character out of nowhere to do just that, in a scene so crudely written that it would likely not have passed muster in a college play-writing course.

And we spend the entire movie being made to understand that Jasmine has kept herself blissfully ignorant of her husband's shady dealings in order that her spoiled world of privilege might not be upset-- yet we're also to believe (SPOILER ALERT) that one call from her would be enough to bring the FBI down on him like a swarm of bees? If the feds were going to arrest him, would they not have kept him under their own surveillance and not have needed her help? And just what does she tell them, if she's as incapable of understanding the ins and outs of finance as she has previously insisted, and as her own behavior as Allen has depicted it confirms, that would be so convincing? 

None of this is supposed to matter, I guess, because Allen is counting on Cate Blanchett to seduce us with her neurotic-car-wreck magnetism, and she is watchable, if only to see what pathetic and cluelessly cruel attitudes she's going to foist on her fellow players next. But no one else in the cast seems any more than a placeholder in what passes for the story, from Peter Sarsgaard's moneyed would-be politician (the Karl Malden stand-in), to the mugs faintly echoing Stanley Kowalski-- Bobby Cannavale, good guy, Andrew Dice Clay, less-good guy-- to Sally Hawkins' adenoidal variation on Stella. I didn't even mind that the movie borrows so bluntly from the Tennessee Williams playbook, because I do think it finds its own voice. But that voice is shrill and obvious and short on illuminating perspective, and I was happy to leave it muttering on a park bench, at the award-wielding mercy of strangers who have been and will be far more kind to Blue Jasmine than it left me with any desire to be.


The evening's second feature, Lake Bell's alleged comedy In a World, about the efforts of one charming motor-mouth’s attempt to break into the high-stakes world of trailer voice-over royalty, was so annoying that I shut it off after 30 minutes. After Blue Jasmine I felt like I needed a laugh, but maybe that movie left me feeling too sour to respond in the way Bell and her rapid-fire cast seemed to want so desperately. I switched over to Letterman, and even Dave's jokes seemed stale and uninspired, so I shuffled crankily off to bed. And now I've never felt more in need of a great comedy like The Lady Eve or His Girl Friday, or a great, ripe character piece like A Streetcar Named Desire, all movies that recognize the real world, that couldn't exist without it, yet which transport us to heights far beyond mundane reality and the even more mundane dramatizations of it.